US college students deeply divided on how to read unspoken language of sex: Study

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Published: June 15, 2015 11:50:50 PM

In a poll carried out recently, at least 40 percent of students going to colleges in the United States seem to be deeply divided on how to read the unspoken language of sex.

In a poll carried out recently, at least 40 percent of students going to colleges in the United States seem to be deeply divided on how to read the unspoken language of sex.

According to the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, at least 40 percent of current and recent college students said that if someone undresses, or gets a condom, or nods in agreement, that such action establishes consent for more sexual activity. But the poll also reveals that another 40 percent did not agree with that view.

The study, which has been reported by the Washington Post, states that conflict and confusion about consent is posing enormous challenges for colleges scrambling to prevent sexual assault.

Many of them, according to the poll, feel there is a need for a new curriculum just to teach incoming students about the do’s and don’ts of intimate communication.

The poll, conducted from January to March, obtained views on sexual assault and related issues from a national sample of 1,053 women and men ages 17 to 26. All are current students or had been undergraduates at four-year colleges within the past four years.

The findings, along with dozens of follow-up interviews, offer a rare window on student attitudes nationwide as colleges, states and the federal government focus on sexual violence.

More than 7 in 10 said their schools had sexual-assault-prevention

programs. Of those, most said students took the programs seriously. Lessons about sexual consent are often taught during student orientation through live skits or online tutorials.

In many ways, the Post-Kaiser poll found, young men get it.

Ninety-five percent of current and recent male students said sexual activity when one person is incapacitated or passed out is tantamount to sexual assault. Seventy-five percent said it does not indicate consent when the other person has not said no. And 66 percent said that sexual foreplay, such as kissing or touching, does not indicate consent.

Among women, 38 percent said it establishes consent for more sexual activity if someone gets a condom; 44 percent said the same is true if someone takes off his or her own clothes; and 51 percent said a nod of agreement signals consent. Women were much less likely than men to

infer consent from sexual foreplay.

Affirmative consent has gained wide exposure in recent years as colleges have revised their student conduct policies in response to student activism, federal pressure and a sharply rising number of reports of sexual assault. The poll found that 83 percent of men and women are aware of “yes means yes” and the underlying principle of clear and mutual agreement.

Sixty-nine percent said the standard is realistic, but 30 percent said it is not. Men were more dubious.

The poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. For answers from men or women only, it was five points.

Asked about things students could do to prevent sexual assault, 93 percent said it would be effective if men respected women more. That was far larger than the shares that endorsed the effectiveness of drinking less alcohol (78 percent) or avoiding casual hookups (64 percent).

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